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America This is Quite Serious: The Witches

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This Halloween, just over a week before election day, I call forth the recent writings of two women who invoke history to update our understanding of the anger directed toward Hillary Clinton and, more broadly, women.

Stacy Schiff frames the vitriol aimed at Clinton with a look at the historical fear of witches. Schiff, the author of last year’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem, digs into the fascination with witches through the ages and why, as she says, “The idea may have evolved; the animus remains.”

Witches remain in business so long as we feel powerless: They offer the blessed relief of assigning blame; they allow us to distill spite, that heady brew of vindication and humiliation.

It would be nice if the connection to the 2016 election was only metaphorical, but it seems there is at least one right-wing “thought” leader — Trump supporter and fucking maniac Alex Jones — who thinks that Hillary is possessed by demons.

If that kind of thing sounds familiar to you, then it’s probably because of the history documented by Susan Faludi in “How Hillary Clinton Met Satan.”

One of the mysteries of 2016 is the degree to which Hillary Clinton is reviled. Not just rationally opposed but viscerally and instinctively hated… she’s cast not just as a political combatant but as a demon who, in the imaginings of Republicans like Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Representative Trent Franks, would create an America “where passion — the very stuff of life — is extinguished” (the former) and where fetuses would be destroyed “limb from limb” (the latter).

Faludi notes the long history of this thinking, which started in the early 1990s, for reasons that appear to be an animating energy of today’s rage:

The 1990s produced a generation of men who felt (and still feel) left behind by a society redefining power and success in terms of ornament and celebrity and demoting the value of industry and brawn, while simultaneously challenging men’s value as family providers. Though women weren’t the source of men’s pain, the antagonist conjured up by aggrieved men I talked with in those years had a feminine face, and very often that face was Hillary’s.

Or as someone once said, “Witches remain in business so long as we feel powerless.” That resentment gave rise to an entire industry of anger, led by talk radio bullshit from the likes of human foot rash Rush Limbaugh. Today, it is made manifest in Donald Trump a liar, con man and abuser who is supposed to Make America Great Again because that what it says on the hat he uses to cover his freakish comb-over.

Hillary’s biggest detractors may call her a witch, but they’re the ones who are under a spell.

America, this is quite serious, and “Witchcraft on the Campaign Trail” and “How Hillary Clinton Met Satan” are worth a read.

Read more from our election year series “America This is Quite Serious.”

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America This is Quite Serious: Get Thee Behind Me, White Christian Voters

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“What makes white people tick?” It’s a hell of a question. And one that FiveThirtyEight tackled this week, in its FiveThirtyEight way, with a statistical analysis of census data and voting preferences. The full breakdown is worth a read, but the main points are these: Contrary to conventional wisdom, there is no clear evidence that economic anxiety points to voter preferences: “Despite the myth that Trump’s base is poor whites, income is the least predictive of white voter support among the seven demographic variables tracked by the poll.”

The most predictive variable, it turns out, was whether a white voter had a high rate of “Religious attendance.” Those who said they never went to church were 71 percent for Clinton, while only 31 percent of people who went weekly supported her. These results are not surprising. But shouldn’t they be?

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“…politics can distort and invert Christianity, turning a faith that at its core is about grace, reconciliation and redemption into one that is characterized by bitterness, recriminations and lack of charity.”

The nexus of faith and politics is a God damned mess. Probably literally. Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious: Do Jobs Work?

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In this week’s Sunday Times, economic historian Michael Lind — author of the excellent Land of Promise — posed an important question about a fundamental tenets of our politics. His question is raised in response to the near constant refrain of every politician, that their ideas and influence will create good jobs for the American people, and that creating those jobs are the surest way to solve problems like too much welfare spending and too little health care coverage. This is a notion so pervasive, and persuasive, that even ideas that are good on the merits — clean energy, a humane immigration system, access to affordable health care — are typically reframed in terms of economic impact.

So, Lind asks: “Should the goal of public policy be to ensure that all Americans can have good jobs — or good lives?”

Lind is narrow in his focus. He defines good jobs as “jobs with solid wages, regular hours and, perhaps, generous employer-provided benefits.” By good lives, he doesn’t mean contentment and well-balanced kids and a trim waistline, but merely the “basic goods and services that define a decent life in a modern society.” In rough terms, a safety net that keeps people out of abject poverty for the span of their lifetimes.

The easy answer is: Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious: The Sunday Book Review

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Our goal with this series is to find books, articles and more that clarify the prevailing forces of this election season, or at least mollify how it feels to bear witness to them. This is roughly the same thing that the New York Times Book Review is doing this Sunday. With a cover illustration of burning letters asking “WHY POPULISM NOW?” the issue offers up a long list of books hoping to ensure that all this fire sheds a little bit of light.

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The central essay asks “What Do This Season’s Political Books Tell Us About the Election?”  Continue reading

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America This is Quite Serious

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Politics sucks.

This is the most casually stated and deeply tragic declaration of our time. It is, ironically, the one thing we all agree on, aside from the charms of Chewbacca Mom.

I realize that “politics sucks” is a strange thing to say less than 48 hours after politics brought us our first female candidate for the presidency. Regardless of your thoughts about who should win this thing, that’s history and it’s inspiring. But by now it’s a dying ember in the cold and dark. Look at how quickly politics started to suck again: Donald Trump apparently made a pee-pee joke the night Clinton declared victory. Thomas Frank is already snarling about the cynicism of anyone who’s happy Hillary won. Bernie’s deeply passionate supporters barely had time — seriously, like half an hour — to deal with the finality of a heartbreaking loss before Politico started rubbing salt in the wounds. The Facebook flame wars are all back up and running on my timeline. How about yours?  Continue reading

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Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way

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When he was working on his MFA in creative writing, Ben Rhodes used to write Frederick Barthelme knock-off fiction. In the tiny office where he works today — almost 15 years after leaving the program — he has shelves of books and binders, a picture of his daughter, some reminders of his favorite baseball team. When asked, he says his life could fit the mold of a Don DeLillo novel. His colleagues compare him to Holden Caulfield.

This is all familiar territory for anyone who has, or knows someone with, a creative writing degree. Except that Continue reading

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